By the end of the week, I had registered and classes were set. It was mostly an exercise since all but one of my courses were required, yet it gave me the chance to take Dan everywhere on campus. This was his orientation, especially to Richardson Memorial, the architecture building, the only school building that was open to students 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and there was always at least one student in there. It was an on-running joke on campus that no matter what time of day or even what day it was there were always lights on. People would always look to confirm the story. It was true, because they just didn’t comprehend what Architecture school was all about. Neither did Dan at first, but he would soon understand.
The building was a five story stone and gray brick clad building built in the 1890’s as Tulane’s Medical School. A heavily rusticated stone base and main floor was topped by three floors of gray brick and a steeply pitched slate roof with narrow stone-faced dormers. The building was arranged with a core flanked by long narrow wings to either side. Each wing was one design lab. Each of these rooms had high ceilings and windows on the three sides that made an airy open environment over thirty feet wide by a hundred feet long where fifty to seventy-five drafting tables were arranged in varied order. Whatever the arrangement of desks on the first day of class it never lasted until the day’s end. The layout soon morphed into an organic array of spaces to suit the needs, relationships and idiosyncrasies of the students who occupied the desks. Cardboard walls would rise in some form or fashion to denote space and create privacy. You would see furniture of all types arrive in time, whether out of the dumpster or some fancy store. People lived in these spaces; we made them our temporary homes and offices for the semester, a world in which we thought we could create or at least stay sane.
Dan was awestruck when he peered into a room that had been used for the summer session.
“It’s a village!”
In this case it actually was. They had set up a central “square” with an old couch, a table and some ratty overstuffed chairs with aisles that led to different “quarters” of the class. I was impressed with the arrangement. The group had obviously come to some agreement as to the overall “zoning” of the lab. Dan began to understand that day that my final year of school, actually any of my years, was not your typical college year.
“Wow, what a weird way to do your senior year,” Dan said.
I told him, “I have fifth year, not a senior year; I don’t get a senior year. I got a freshman and sophomore year, but then they just became numbers. It’s the way it is, OK.”
“Oh God, the honeymoon’s over, out come the idiosyncrasies,” he joked as he bumped me with his hip.
I put my arms around him and said, “I love you, you big galoot, kiss me.”
He did, long and passionately, to the wide eyes of one of my former professors who had just walked in the room. We broke apart when he passed us.
“Hi, Professor Smithers.”
“Hi, Pete. Getting energized for thesis?”
“Absolutely,” I boomed.
“This is Dan Elliot… you’ll be seeing him around a lot this year.”
“Good, good. Dan, word of advice, Pete’s a good kid, knows what he’s doing when it comes to school, but he doesn’t take such good care of himself when he gets involved in one of his projects. Make sure he eats right and try to get him to sleep once in a while; he’ll be a lot more pleasant to be around and his work will be better too.”
“Hey!” I protested.
“Pete, remember the time I saw you in the same outfit for three days last year? I know you had hardly eaten, your face was gaunt, you didn’t smell so hot and your project wasn’t really any better because of it. You get driven my boy, which is good, but it needs to be moderated. So, Dan, moderate him would you?” he said with a laugh.
“Yeah, I’ll moderate him. Thanks! Come on.”
Dan grabbed me by the shoulder blades and directed me out the door.
He whispered in my ear, “Mmmm, I’m ready to moderate you and be moderated.”
I had a hard-on the whole streetcar ride home.
Dan found a job as a waiter at a decent restaurant in the French Quarter. His schedule would be somewhat flexible so that we could squeeze in as much time together as possible. It had gotten to the point, except for a few times while working for my dad, where we were within sight of each other for every moment since I arrived for his graduation. We never realized this until we had to separate because of school and work. We found it was comforting to be joined at the hip; at least for us it was normal.
The rhythm of school and work fell into a regular beat. We finessed our schedules to offer us the most time together. Dan gave up Saturday dinners but did a double shift during the week so that we had all of Saturday together and most of Sunday before we both went to “work”, I at my drafting table and Dan at the dining tables. During the week, Dan and I would leave work by midnight so we could arrive home together for a light snack and conversation before bed. He would get to sleep later most mornings, but then he brought me lunch. Mr. Smithers noticed by the end of the second month of school how calm and happy I was.
“He does moderate you, doesn’t he?”
“Oh yes he does!” I said, desperately trying to stifle my laugh.
Dan couldn’t and burst out laughing, “Sorry, sir, I’m in a silly mood.”
“Maybe it’s your friend Dan who needs to be moderated,” Smithers says to me.
Then we both lost it. Professor Smithers shrugged his shoulders and moved down to talk to other students. We were happy kids with a wonderful toy.
Dan’s birthday was approaching on October the fifth. I was awed by the prospect of having to find a present that matched what he had given me and know it’s silly to have to compete like that, I thought, but it still would always be the first birthday present I would give him.
I finally came right out and said to him, “I don’t know what to get you for your birthday. I don’t know how I can get you anything that would be as good as what you got me.”
“Why are you doing this to yourself,” he asked sternly.
He paused a second and said with a smirk, “Do you need to be moderated over this?” That broke the tension.
“You can bake me a cake with homemade strawberry icing. That would be cool.”
“With Strawberry jumping out of it?”
“You silly bugger.”
“Hey, we haven’t heard from him and it’s been almost six weeks!”
“True, actually I had a dream about the three of us again last night.”
“I had one too a few days back…What is it about him?”
“And why does he keep poppin’ up in our dreams and thoughts,” Dan replied.
“I told you about the ‘Feeling’ I got when we met him…so do you think that there is more to this than sex?”
“Shit Pete, I keep trying to put that out of my head but…but… I too have this gut feeling that…that…” Dan leaned over so that our foreheads touched, “I just don’t know if I want to understand my feelings.”
“I guess we’ll deal with it when, and if, we ever meet up again. Till then we just let it be.”
“Ya think?” I nodded.
It dawned on me what I should do for Dan’s birthday when I woke the next morning. I didn’t know if I could pull it off or afford it in time. I was going over the top on this and hoped I wasn’t going too far. I called Marvin, a long time waiter at Antoine’s, to reserve a table in the corner of the back dining room. That’s one of those funny things about New Orleans and Antoine’s you just don’t make reservations you call the one who will take care of you. I had been introduced to Marvin through one of my friends from school, Harley. Harley Bradley was from an old line New Orleans family. Comus, Momus and Rex, he was part of the Mardi Gras elite social structure, what others might call a good ol’ boy. To me he was a damn good friend who would do anything I asked, even if I was a Damnyankee. Yes, in New Orleans and the South, Damnyankee was one word! With the easy part done, I called Harley, who had answered my announcement of my sexuality with the question, “Well, that’s interesting, are you still going to get married at some point?” Society here does allow for forays into debauchery, but you shouldn’t necessarily do it as a lifestyle. Harley never treated me any differently and that was what was important to me. I asked some questions about whom I needed to see to get what I wanted for Dan.
He told me who and where without a second thought and then asked, “You are really going to do this?”
“This is just between Dan and me. Ok, not to worry.”
“Ok, bud, by the way, will you two come for Thanksgiving dinner or are you leaving town?”
“I don’t know yet. I think we are visiting his parents, Har, but I will ask Dan and get back to you next week. Thanks for the invite, appreciate it.”
“Have fun spending money; tell him I sent you. See’ya at F&M sometime? You two only live a block away.”
“Call me, Saturdays are cool. Thanks, Har. Later.”
Harley was absolutely right. When I went shopping I got exactly what I was looking for, at a good price and with a knowing wink of the eye.
Dan knew I had been out on my present safari on one of our Saturdays so he didn’t ask any questions. His only comment was about how happy I was so things must have gone well. Yes, I was in a very good mood.
“Hey Dan, how about goin’ out tonight. I’m ready for a few beers. How ‘bout you?”
“It has been awhile, I’m game.”
“Let me make a few phone calls.” I called Harley, who was surprised that I called him to go out and about a half a dozen others whom I hadn’t seen lately due to school and Dan.
We all met at the F&M Patio Bar and Lounge, one hell of a dive for college kids. It was made up of a ramshackle conglomeration of old buildings filled with a couple of pool tables, pinball machines, and one of the best jukeboxes anywhere. It had one long bar inside and one out on the “patio”, a fenced in piece of concrete with a few sorry looking plants around the edges. Alcohol and friends were all that were needed to turn this place into something so much more than what it really was. That was what we did that night. We got drunk, laughed, told stories on one another and had an all out blast of a time making fools of ourselves. Not since the party when we met did Dan and I get so drunk and this time we didn’t get nervous when we kissed in front of our friends. A few women at the other pool table got their panties a bit knotted up, but we decided they were just jealous of two handsome guys they wouldn’t get the chance to take home to Daddy. Dan and I finally decided by four in the morning that we had had enough, and with Steve between us we staggered around the corner to home. How none of us broke an ankle as we stumbled over all of the potholes was beyond me. When Harley and the rest of the gang ever decided to pour themselves into a cab and go home I don’t know, but I bet it was well past dawn.
At noon, Dan shakes me and says, “Come on, we need to go make groceries.”
“Oh shit, my head.”
“Mine too, but hey…think they’d mind us crashin’ their pool?”
“Oh shit, I think you’re brilliant.”
“Thank you, you shit, now come on.”
We thrashed around for half a minute digging for our suits and pulling them on. We crashed through Steve’s room on the way to the back door. From the back steps we could see our neighbors quietly reading the Sunday Times-Picayune by the pool.
“Comin’ through,” I yelled as the two of us did our little kid routine of trying to push the other out of the way as we ran through the gate.
Ben and Janet put up with our antics. They just protected their paper as we splashed into the pool.
When we came to the surface giggling, Janet peered over her sunglasses and said, “Out late and carousing, boys?”
“Don’t call me ma’am you handsome shit.”
“Hey, at least she called me a ‘handsome shit’,” I needled Dan.
“Pardon me, yes, you are a handsome shit.”
“And you are a handsome man. My only man, Dan,” I giggled.
“You’re still half drunk.”
And I was. We swam for half an hour and got ourselves feeling a bit more normal, if that was possible. We thanked Janet and Ben for our intrusion and dribbled across the back yard and through Steve’s room. He was naked spread eagle across his bed snoring. We stared at each other, shook our heads and laughed. I was so glad that I had Dan to share my life with as we climbed into the shower.
Sundays were when we went and did our grocery shopping for the week. Dan had to be at work late Sunday afternoon and I went to school to do whatever was necessary to start the week ahead. We tried to make an adventure out of it instead of letting it become a chore. We both tried to cook during the week with Steve pitching in too. Dan, by far, was the best cook. He always said, “I just read the cookbook,” but invariably he adapted the recipe or outright changed it into what he thought was going to be good. He amazed me with the apparent ease with which he made those decisions.
In New Orleans, you “make” groceries instead of go “grocery shopping.” Dan loved that expression and used it naturally. When we made groceries I was in charge of the cart and Dan had the week’s menu in his head, at least he did by the time we finished shopping. I went up and down the aisles picking out the standards and other things that I knew needed to be restocked. Dan would never have remembered things like toilet paper or mayonnaise until it was too late; for me it was one of those obvious things. Dan would call things out to me or meet me at the end of an aisle with an armload of stuff for the cart. How he came up with this on the fly was beyond my natural capabilities.
Dan sent me to the far end of the vegetable aisle to pick out a head of cauliflower and a bunch of broccoli. I was assessing my choices when I looked up to see Dan talking to a beautiful tall strong woman with long reddish brown hair and a light spattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. They were having an animated conversation when all of a sudden her jaw dropped open and she put her hand across her eyes. She was obviously embarrassed. Dan caressed her shoulder, consoling her, and then I saw him point his thumb to me. She looked at me and I gave her a little chest high wave with my open hand and a big smile. I grabbed my veggies and pushed the cart down to see what was up. Curiosity had gotten the better of me.
“Katie Fitzmorris, this is Pete Langer. Pete, this is Katie. Katie had her eye on me as a husband, but I told her I already had one.”
“Good to meet you, Katie. Ah, that’s why you got a tad embarrassed.”
“Yes, nice to meet you, Pete. I guess I didn’t expect for Dan to be so bold about the whole thing.”
“Well we sort of blasted out of the closet and haven’t even tried to close the door.”
I looked at Dan and he had the most curious grin on his face. He obviously wasn’t thinking about the groceries. My “I’m confused” face came on.
He gave me a quick wink and said, “Katie, It would be my great pleasure though to introduce you to your future husband.”
Katie, looking as confused as I was, looked to me for help. As I shrugged my shoulders, Dan moved into a spread eagle position. It was my time for my jaw to drop. He was absolutely right. I shook my head ‘OK.’
Dan continued, “We have a good friend.”
“Our roommate,” I interjected.
“Steve Thomas, who we believe is the greatest guy and believe you two would really hit it off. If you are up for it we’ll set something up. Actually, we will double date so if you and Steve don’t work out then the three of us will have fun. How about it, Katie.”
She looked at Dan and thought about what he had just said and then with a sigh replied, “Dan, I’m not one for blind dates, but for some reason I will trust you with this one. I don’t know why I should since I just met you in the fruit and vegetable aisle of Schwegeman’s, but…”
We all shifted our eyes to one another and then let the pun pass with a knowing smirk.
Then Katie continued, “Ok….Now it can’t be next weekend but the following would work.”
“Next weekend wouldn’t have worked for anyone but Steve, so the weekend of the twelfth is it.”
We exchanged phone numbers and spent the next half-hour finishing our shopping together. I was calling her “Fitz” by the time we checked out, much to her annoyance, but we three had become fast friends. Dan and I discussed how we were going to convince Steve of the perfection of this plan all the way home.
We were putting the groceries away when Steve walked into the kitchen.
“At least you’ve got some underwear on now,” I verbally poked at him.
“Never mind him, Steve. How do you feel? We took a quick dip next door and then at least felt human.”
“I can’t believe you guys have been up long enough to make groceries. I feel like dog shit.”
“When there are two of you, you tend to push one another along. Being a couple does have its plus side,” I offered.
Dan saw this opening and decided to push the door the rest of the way.
“Hey, Steve, waddya think about going out on a double date with us sometime?”
“Wha…? I haven’t been very successful in finding anyone pretty who wants to go out on a date with me, except some ‘things’ that are ‘pretty’ scary. So I don’t know how that’s going to work.”
“What if I know someone who I think is pretty damn wonderful and would go out with you?”
“Oh, yeah, great character, wonderful personality but looks like the neighbor’s mutt.”
“No, no nothing of the kind. Let’s put it this way; if I wasn’t queer and in love with Pete I would be calling her right now.”
“Your … not shittin’ me are you.”
“Nope. Ask Pete what she looks like.”
“She’s beautiful,” and I went on to describe her in detail.
“Not next weekend, that’s Dan’s B-Day, but the week after that, OK?”
“Should I call her myself?”
“Definitely, here’s her number,” Dan said giving him the slip of paper, “and we’ll be in the next room if you need any help, but I don’t think so. She’s easy to talk to.”
Later that afternoon as Dan and I were going out the door to go to our “jobs” we heard Steve talking and laughing with Katie on the phone. We smiled and waved bye as we went through the kitchen. He nodded, smiled and blew us a kiss as we went down the hall.
As good as that weekend was I was very nervous about the one coming up. It was hard to concentrate on school. I was so worried that Dan meant more to me than he thought I meant to him. What a fool I could be.
On Friday night I was fit to be tied I was so nervous.
“What has gotten into you, Peter?”
“Anxiety attack,” I said matter of factly.
“About what,” Dan asked, knowing I needed to get this out in the open. I stuttered,
“Pete, you’re scaring me.”
“Come on, it’s almost midnight. Let’s go cuddle in bed and I’ll be alright.”
“Now, there’s some sense. ‘Cause there is no place I’d rather be than snuggled up with you when my birthday begins.”
I was definitely reassured. We climbed into bed and Dan wrapped his arms around me. I could hear the ticking of his watch in my ear. We whispered our love to one another and I wished him a happy birthday. We both fell asleep within minutes.
The room had begun to brighten with the morning sun when I awoke. Dan and I were still embraced. I began to nibble on his ear. He jerked a bit and then began to moan. I had his attention. I could feel him harden against my thigh.
“Good morning, birthday boy.”
“Good morning, Love.” The next hour was spent exploring each other’s body like we had never seen it before.
“You know, you are the best present I could ever get!”
“Thanks, ‘cause that’s what I got you,” I said with a smirk.
“You cheeky bastard,” he retorted and began to tickle me all over. We scrambled all over that bed giggling until we crashed to the floor in a heap with a thud. Steve came rushing into the room to see what had happened. We sat up in a tangle of limbs and bedclothes, smiling from ear to ear.
“Are you alright?”
“We’re fine. I just need to straighten Pete out a bit from time to time.”
“Ooops, then I’m leaving. Oh, by the way, can I treat you two to lunch for your birthday today?”
Dan peered over my shoulder at me and I shrugged, “Sure, Steve, we’d love that.”
“Noon, OK,” and Steve then backed out of the door. I called to him as he went down the hall, “HEY, what happened to knockin’.”
Steve took us to Domelise’s, a tiny hole in the wall bar/sandwich shop on Bellecastle Street, down by the river, which had the best po’boys in all of New Orleans. A couple of Dixie beers and a large fried shrimp po’boy, dressed - there was nothing like it in the world. Simple pleasures are sometimes the greatest joys.
Steve gave Dan a beautiful dark green cotton short-sleeved shirt with a red crawfish where similar shirts sport an alligator. Dan was ecstatic.
“This is so cool. I love this!”
He immediately removed any tags and pins, shook it out and put it on.
He stood up, spun around and said, “What do you think?”
The ladies who make the sandwiches behind the counter hooted and one called out, “It’s a winner!”
The little place with six tables and a line of customers all burst out laughing and clapped. It was a winner too because of how the color complemented his skin and hair tones. Dan raised his arms and said, “Yessss!” before taking a bow, giving Steve a kiss on the forehead and sitting down. Steve turned red, but smiled as wide as he could.
The three of us spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the sun and swimming at Ben and Janet’s. It was beginning to get dark when we went inside to get ready for dinner.
Dan and I were in the shower when he complained, “Jacket and tie, you’ve got to be kidding.”
“No, and I promised you when we had pizza and beer for my birthday that I would make it up to you for yours.”
“Sheesh, OK, got me over a barrel on this one, huh?”
“Don’t get me started; later I’ll put you over one!”
“Hey, it’s my birthday, who gets to put who over a barrel?”
“Your wish is my command, master.”
After getting dressed we walked to the Magazine Street bus for the ride down to the Quarter. I had a wrapped and bowed box, the size of a basketball under my arm. Dan gave it a dubious look because of its resemblance to the one his parents had used for his graduation present. I winked at him.
He shook his head and smiled, “We don’t need another car you know.”
As we waited for the bus I said, “See that house across the street. That’s where Lee Harvey Oswald lived with his wife and child when he went to Texas.”
“You’re shittin me again.”
“Nope, truth,” and I wasn’t kidding.
Dan squinted at me then put his hand into mine.
“How you learn all this shit is beyond me,” he remarked.
The bus arrived and we climbed aboard. At eight we walked past the front door to Antoine’s.
Dan said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to eat there.”
Six more steps down the sidewalk we stopped at the side door and then went in.
Marvin walked right up and said, “This way, sir.”
He escorted us to the back of the back room and laid out his hand, pointing to the table in the corner. He took the back of Dan’s chair and seated him, then walked around and seated me.
Marvin said, “I’ll be right back,” and left us as the attendant filled our water glasses.
In the brief time before our waiter returned Dan said, “I love you. I really love you.”
“I’m not done yet,” I replied dryly.
With the utmost efficiency Marvin returned and asked, “Appetizers?”
I replied, “Oysters Rockefeller.”
“Meat or fish,” he asked of both of us.
We answered, “Meat.”
“Wine? I suggest the Merlot.”
“Fine.” Marvin disappeared into the kitchen.
“That’s it? We ordered our complete dinner?”
“Yep. They take care of you here.”
“Talk about trust.”
“Yep, that’s what it’s all about.”
“It is, isn’t it,” he said with a knowing smile and a long look at me.
Dinner was an absolutely relaxing experience. All we had to do was talk and entertain ourselves, which was easy for us. After they cleared the dinner dishes away and we waited for dessert, my mind returned to the contents of the box. I finally had let it go. I knew I had done the right thing.
Marvin brought out a petite birthday cake with strawberry icing and a single candle. He bowed out with a wink. I sang “Happy Birthday” in as soft and caressing a voice as I could. My hands were on each of his knees. Dan looked skyward and then blew out the candle. He leaned across the table and kissed me on the lips.
“What, I don’t have a hard-on…oops now I’m goin’ there.”
“See…and that’s not what I meant!”
“I know. Now, it’s time for prezzies!”
I handed him the box. Dan placed it in his lap and removed the card. It was a plain 2 by 3 inch card of orange paper. He unfolded it and read it out loud, “‘I love you. Pete.’ To the point.” He slowly untied the blue bow. I was squirming in my seat. He took his time unwrapping the green paper. The lid came off and he rustled around in the paper for a bit and stopped.
“You and my parents.”
He pulled one small cube from the box. He put the large box to the side and then lifted the lid off of the small box. Inside was a blue leather jeweler’s box. He looked at me with wide eyes and a serious face before opening it. He pried the top of the box up and stared, speechless.
“Will you marry me, Daniel Boone Elliot?”
Still staring down at the box he pulled two plain platinum bands out and placed them in the palm of his hand. He looked up at me, tears flowing down his face. He reached over and picked up my left hand, turned it palm down and placed the smaller of the two rings on my third finger.
“Yes, Peter Gerhard Langer.”
I picked up the other ring from his palm, turned the hand over and slid it on his finger. Holding both hands, crying and smiling, we stared at one another. Nothing needed to be said. Marvin glided by when he saw it was not the moment to disturb.
Composure finally returned to the two of us.
“Peter, no wonder you’ve been a wreck for the last week….but did you really expect me to refuse?”
“I just can’t believe that I am so lucky to have you and you want me.”
“I’m the lucky one, trust me,” he said.
Marvin returned, cut the cake and served us. We had forgotten completely. He noticed the bands and smiled. He returned moments later with a bottle of champagne and two glasses.
“Compliments of the house.”
I moved my chair around so that we sat next to one another. We held hands while we drank the champagne. I felt that if this is what life is about then the tough times were easy to deal with.
We walked the two and a half miles home, holding hands and talking about the future. Steve was still awake when we got home. He had just hung up from talking to Katie for the last two hours. I told Dan that I think we had created a monster.
Steve looked at us and said, “That is the pot calling the kettle black.”
Then we showed him the rings. He was floored.
“And I didn’t even get to be best man!”
We laughed. I kissed him on the cheek and said, “We are going to bed. Knock if you need to.”
“Don’t worry.” I closed the door and soon heard, “Katie, guess what….”